Mealworm for chickens: An in-depth guide for owners

Just like humans, chickens also enjoy getting a taste of some delicious snacks. If you’ve ever fed your backyard flock with mealworms, then you know what I’m talking about. Just a small handful of these squishy little things can make chickens go nuts. This may seem weird to us as most people are grossed out by just looking at them, but for chicks, mealworms are quite a delicacy.

Mealworm is actually not a worm but a larva of a parent insect, the Darkling Beetle. These insects go through four stages of the life cycle and mealworm is one of them. They start out as eggs which then hatch into larvae or mealworms. Larva sheds its moult into a pupa which hatches into the final form, the beetle. Mealworms enjoy scavenging for food in dark and dry places and can often infest flour, cereals, or feed sacks.

These little creatures are not only delicious snacks for your chickens, but have numerous benefits that will help you keep your flock healthy and happy. They provide a valuable source of protein that helps your flock be healthy and thrive. In addition, mealworms can boost chickens’ immune systems during the moulting period and increase egg production and quality. Also, introducing mealworms to the chicken diet decreases the consumption of other foods. Just like with humans, proteins will make chickens stay full longer.


Mealworm Nutritional Value Information

The main reason why you should supplement your chickens’ diet with mealworms is their exceptional nutritional value. Mealworms are one of the best alternative natural protein resources. They also contain several other healthy and useful ingredients such as vitamins C and E, and minerals such as calcium, phosphorous, copper, potassium, sodium, and selenium.

Still, more than anything else, it’s the high percentage of protein that makes the mealworms so valuable as an addition to the chicken diet. It contains much more protein than other popular chicken snacks such as veggies and fruit, and about the same amount as a fish meal.

The exact amount of protein depends on several factors. First of all, if the mealworms are live or dried. Nutritional content will also depend on the environment they grow in and the ingredients of the substrate they feed on.

Dried mealworms are usually around 50% protein and 28% fat. They also feature 6% fiber and 5% water. Live mealworms contain 28% protein, 13% fat, 2% fibre, and 62% water. When you take into account that the chicken diet should include around 16% of protein, you see just how beneficial mealworms can be.

The mineral composition of mealworms with values expressed in mg/100g looks like this:

  • Calcium – 42
  • Iron – 3.8
  • Zinc – 4.2
  • Manganese – 0.44
  • Copper – 0.78


Are Mealworms Good for Chickens?

Mealworms are one of those rare treats you can offer your backyard flock that is very healthy and, at the same time, adored by chickens. As you will see, these squirmy larvae will improve your chicken’s diet making them stronger and more healthy, but also provide numerous other benefits for your precious flock.


Mealworms Add Protein to Chicken Diet

In order to thrive in the backyard environment, chickens need to have a healthy and balanced diet. And just like with humans, that kind of feed plan is impossible without protein. It will help them develop and make them grow and mature more quickly. Chicken protein needs to increase even more during the winter months when it helps them maintain their weight and stay healthy.

Chicks get a dose of protein from other sources, but that’s often not enough. This is where mealworms take the stage. They contain an abundance of protein. In fact, dried mealworms are more than 50% protein. Knowing that laying hens need only around 16% of their food to be protein, you get a clearer picture of why just a handful of mealworms can go a long way in improving your flock’s condition. Growing birds need protein even more. Their diet should include 20-22% of protein. Besides protein, mealworms are also rich in calories, fat, and carbohydrates.


Mealworm Diet Helps Chickens During Molting

The moulting usually occurs throughout fall and spring. When moulting, chickens lose their feathers which are later replaced with new ones. Inexperienced owners often this that this is a sign that there’s something wrong with the chickens. However, moulting is a perfectly normal process that every healthy chicken goes through.

Nevertheless, while losing feathers is nothing to worry about, during moulting season chickens experience a significant drop in immunity. As feathers are almost entirely made of protein, their deficiency is the main reason why this happens. And, there’s nothing better to fortify poor immunity than an extra dose of protein. For this reason, it’s always good to have mealworms supply ready when the moulting season starts.

Introducing mealworm supplements to your chickens’ diet will strengthen their immunity and help them stay healthy while moulting. These little guys add dense amounts of protein to your chicks and you should be able to see them recover and improve their physical appearance in just a couple of days.


Mealworm Diet Improves Egg Quality and Production

Eggs are one of the best protein sources for people and they actually are almost entirely protein. So, it’s only logical that an increased level of protein in chickens’ diet will result in more nutritious eggs. According to many chicken owners, providing chickens with more protein-rich food even makes eggs taste better. Feeding your hens with mealworms will also increase make them increase their production and lay more eggs. This is why a lot of chicken keepers especially boost the mealworm supplements during the laying period.

In general, the quality of eggs depends on what your chicken eats. The best and healthiest eggs are a product of chickens whose diet is organic. Since many people who keep chickens grow their own mealworms, they can freely feed them to chickens knowing that they were bred in a natural and organic way.


Mealworms Can Be of Great Help in Turning the Bedding

If you’re using deep litter bedding in your backyard coop, you know what a hassle it can be to stir the litter up and turn the bedding. It can be a truly tedious chore and requires a lot of time and manpower.

For those not using this system, deep litter bedding involves creating a thick layer of bedding in the coop. When it starts to decompose, you don’t remove and replace it but rather just add a new layer on top of the old one. The old bedding will dissolve and enrich the soil and save you from the trouble of replacing it. However, from time to time you have to stir it up and mix up the old and new bedding which can be rather exhausting.

However, mealworms and chickens can do a lot of this work for you. Just take some mealworms and sprinkle them across the bedding. Then, you can just sit back and watch what happens.

Chickens adore mealworms so much that will immediately get super excited about the new portion of their favourite snack. To get to the mealworms inside the litter they’ll start scratching and pecking into the bedding. They’ll likely continue to do this even after they’ve eaten them all, looking for any leftovers. In the process of doing this, they will thoroughly turn and mix up the bedding desperately trying to discover more mealworms.


Can You Feed Your Chickens Too Many Mealworms?

While mealworms are a useful and healthy addition to the chicken diet, you shouldn’t go overboard with the amount you’re serving them. Mealworms are basically a supplement or, to be more clear, a treat. And, just like with us humans, too many treats may be bad. On average, mealworms should account for more than 10% of the chicken diet.

Chickens get most of their nutrients through their feed. Proper feed will have all the nutritious ingredients in the right proportion. So, there’s no reason to treat them with mealworms more than twice a week. You can increase this a bit during the molting period when chickens commonly experience a lack of proteins. The amount you give them at once shouldn’t be more than a small handful per chicken. Ten live mealworms or four dried ones are usually enough.

Too many mealworms in their diet can lead to chicken obesity, make them more lethargic, and make them more vulnerable to certain diseases.


At What Age Can You Give Chickens Mealworms?

There’s no precise answer to this question nor any official scientific advice. Most experienced chicken keepers wait up to eight weeks before giving their baby chick mealworms. There’s a good chance that a young chick won’t even want to eat mealworms before that time. A good rule of thumb is to wait until your chick develops actual feathers instead of fuzz they have as babies. Also, you should wait until the baby chick has had access to grit for at least a week or two. This will give them time to accumulate enough grit in their stomach to successfully process mealworms.


Are Dried Mealworms Dead?

With dried mealworms, you can rest assured that they’re definitely dead. There will be no surprises such as them transforming into pupae and further hatching into the beetles.

On the other hand, if you’ve opted for another method of long-term storage – keeping them in a refrigerator, they can survive for quite some time. While in the refrigerator they’ll be in the state of hibernation, but still alive. At 45-50ºF, they can survive for a couple of months.


Are Dried Mealworms as Good as Live Ones? / Are Dried Mealworms as Nutritious as Live Mealworms?

When comparing the nutritional value of dried and live mealworms, the advantage is clearly on the side of the dried ones. They have a larger percentage of protein, but a smaller percentage of water in their bodies. Also, they have more fiber. Here’s how live and dried mealworms stack against each other by nutritional composition. Bear in mind that these values can vary depending on the environment and what the mealworms are fed with.

Dried mealworms:

  • protein – 50%
  • fat – 28%
  • fiber – 6%
  • water – 5%

Live mealworms:

  • protein – 28%
  • fat – 13%
  • fiber – 2%
  • water – 62%

The dried mealworms’ nutritional value can also depend on the drying method. Sun-dried mealworms will have less protein but more fat.

Another benefit of dried mealworms is their long storage life. Plus, you don’t have to keep them in the refrigerator and accidentally gross out an unsuspecting family member.


Do Birds Prefer Live or Dried Mealworms?

Live mealworms are definitely more appealing to chickens and they would be more eager to eat them than their dried counterparts. Plus, it’s just more fun to watch chicken eat live mealworms. In the season when they spend most of their time outside the coop with an abundance of natural food around them, some chickens may not even try to eat dried mealworms. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons why some backyard chicken owners hydrate dried mealworms is to make them look more like live ones.


Should I Soak Dried Mealworms?

In order to make dried mealworms more appealing to chickens, some flock keepers hydrate them. If you’re concerned that this may alter the nutritional value, worry not – it stays the same. However, there are some other benefits to rehydrating or soaking dried worms. When soaked, they will double in size compared to the dry state. Also, hydration will make them softer and look more alive.

When introducing dried mealworms to your chickens for the first time, it’s usually a good idea to initially offer them hydrated so the chicks can get used to this new threat. Young chicks will find them much easier to eat. Hydration is also useful during warm summer months. To efficiently digest dry mealworms, chickens need to hydrate them first. If you do a part of this job for them, they will lose less of their one fluids. On the other hand, in winter, you should use hot boiling water to hydrate them. This way, chickens will be able to enjoy a warm snack during cold months.